Racing of any kind usually draws a large crowd, but not so for the first remote controlled plane race. The very first example of radio control demonstrated in New York City in 1898, its inventor was a 43 year old immigrant who was duly awarded U.S Patent no 613,809.
It was only one of 113 U.S patents that this prolific genius received during his lifetime. Many electrical engineers and historians regarded his basic inventions as the foundation of the 20th century as we know it.
By the middle of the 1930s, miniature airplanes were just beginning to be powered by very small gasoline engines. An R/C contest event was even scheduled for the 1936 model aircraft Nationals in Detroit. It was a little premature, not one entrant showed up! The following year however, must be regarded as the true beginning of R/C racing.
The 1937 Nationals attracted 6 entrants, the lightest (6 lb) and simplest plane won although his flight was a bit erratic and lasted several minutes. Two other entrants had their plane take off then climbed steeply, stall and crash.
Remote controlled plane racing has come a long way since then. Flying R/C aircraft as a hobby grew substantially from the 2000s with improvements in the cost, weight, performance and capabilities of motors, batteries and electronics.
A Wide variety of models and styles are available. As manufactures quickly recognized a keen market it did not take long for electric planes such as the now-famous HobbyZone Super Cub to become established products in the hobby.
Incidentally, foam construction has become the industry standard material for electric planes. Although of course traditional balsa/ply model planes are widely available as kits. These kits can be mostly foam or plastic, or may be all balsa and ply-wood.
Construction of wood kits typically consist of using formers and longerons for the fuselage, and spars and ribs for the wing and tail surfaces.
Many designs use solid sheets of balsa wood instead to form the fuselage. The lightest models are suitable for indoor flight, in a windless environment.
Amateur hobbyists have more recently developed a range of new model designs utilizing the corrugated plastic or “Coroplast” material. These models are collectively called “SPADS” which stands for Simple Plastic Airplane Design.
Fans of the SPAD concept tout increased durability, ease of building, and lower priced materials as opposed to balsa models, sometimes (though not always) at the expense of greater weight and crude appearance.
Overall the quality of of electric planes has improved dramatically, to the point where mass-produced scale foam airplanes, like warbirds for example are nearly as impressive as a scratch built one made by an experienced modeller over many months! And they can be bought for a fraction of the cost too.
While r/c airplane flying has over the years attracted an abundance of attention and racers they are not the only ones interested in this modern sport.
Scientific, government and military organizations are also using RC aircraft for experiments, gathering weather readings, aerodynamic modeling and testing and even using them as drones or spy planes.